Derry: More Pain, No Gain

Frank Derry looks back on a painful year for the Browns and their fans. Derry, who has covered the Browns for thirty years, wonders if the team made any progress towards competitiveness in 2006...

More pain, no gain.

Those four words pretty much sum up the 2006 season for the Cleveland Browns.

Other than the performances of safety Sean Jones, punter Dave Zastudil and rookie linebackers Kamerion Wimbley and D'Qwell Jackson, it's almost impossible to find anything positive that transpired.

Sunday's 14-6 loss to the host Houston Texans, which brought a close to the 4-12 season, was played mostly by second, third and fourth-stringers who have talent more suited for the Arena Football League.

That's why it's so hard to judge the job head coach Romeo Crennel did this year. The Browns lost two more games in ‘06 than they did in Crennel's rookie season and only equaled the victory total achieved in Butch Davis's' final year in 2004.

At one point earlier this year, it appeared the Browns had the makings of a solid core of skilled players. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards, tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., running back Reuben Droughns, inside linebacker Andra Davis, kick return specialist Joshua Cribbs, Jones, Zastudil, Wimbley and Jackson all gave us hope that the Browns were on the verge of helping the Browns transition into a winning organization.

Victories over the New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs offered some hope for the future.

But just when it seemed the team might be headed in the right direction, everything fell apart. That was due in large part to the fact a couple of the team's key components, Edwards and Winslow, have proven to be two of the most self-centered players the Browns have had on their roster in the 30-plus years I have covered this organization.

In fact, I have a tough time trying to remember when there was even one star-quality player who was so absorbed with personal goals. To have two at the same time has to be Crennel's worst nightmare.

It was all `I' for Edwards and Winslow, both of whom need to grow up very quickly if they ever hope to live up to their potential.

The only area of the team where `I' was more prevalent was on the offensive line. That's where injury, illness and ineptness prevailed. The training camp loss of center LeCharles Bentley kept the offensive line from ever playing one down together. By year's end, anybody healthy enough to put on a knee brace was being used.

That's one reason why quarterback Charlie Frye could never get his act together.

Much like Crennel, we have no idea whether Frye is capable of doing his job. And, much like Crennel, there will be a great deal of speculation over the coming days, weeks and, at least in Frye's situation, possibly months as to what the future holds.

Crennel will, after meeting with owner Randy Lerner and general manager Phil Savage in the next few days, find out his fate.

There are plenty of reasons to fire Crennel, ranging from his overall record (10-22), home record (6-10) and division record (1-11), to his questionable handling of his problem child, Edwards, to his loyalty to his now-departed offensive coordinator, Maurice Carthon.

But there are just as many reasons to bring him back. Even when healthy, the Browns are at the bottom of the barrel in terms of talent. That is not Crennel's fault. There also is the belief that you must have continuity to have any chance of success. And the defense, when firing on all cylinders, was respectable this year. Likewise for the special teams.

But the wild card that will come into play is the potential availability of former Browns player/assistant coach Bill Cowher, who is expected to resign as head coach of the Steelers within the next few days.

Cowher still has a year to go on his contract with the Steelers and would likely have to sit out a year before Lerner would have an opportunity to talk to him about returning to Cleveland.

But if there is even a glimmer of hope that this scenario could play out, then there is no doubt Crennel will return for the '07 season. It then becomes a win-win situation for Lerner.

If Crennel's team struggles out of the gate next season, that will open the door for the Browns to court Cowher. If the Browns somehow turn things around and start winning, all will be right in Cleveland, Ohio.

As for Frye, he probably will go into the 2007 season as the No. 1 quarterback, especially if Crennel returns. Derek Anderson has clearly been No. 2 in Crennel's mind and the awful performance by the former Oregon State star against Tampa Bay undoubtedly reinforced that opinion.

Unfortunately, quarterback will not be the only area of concern for whoever coaches the team next year. The offensive line is a problem that cannot be fixed with one draft or one crop of free agents.

The cornerback situation is in doubt due to the serious injuries both Gary Baxter and Daylon McCutchon are recuperating from. Nose tackle needs to be filled by someone other than Ted Washington, who had a tough '06 season.

And there are some who believe the Browns need to bring in someone to challenge Reuben Droughns, who obviously rested upon his thick wallet much of the year.

The 2006 season was indeed a painful one for both the Browns and their fans. And the worst part was, none of that pain produced any gain.

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